Horacio Ramirez will walk to the mound for the Seattle Mariners in Cleveland today with every reason to prove a lot of people wrong.
There are those who believe he’ll never stay healthy enough to pitch to his potential. Those who say he wasn’t worth what the Mariners traded to the Atlanta Braves to get him – star relief pitcher Rafael Soriano. Those who thought the Mariners should have gone after that other Ramirez – Manny.
But instead of going out to prove all those people wrong, left-hander Ramirez will pitch today for himself, his family and his teammates, just as he does every time he gets the ball.
“What my family did for me, to sacrifice so much for me to play baseball, is motivation,” he said. “Every time I go out there, I’m pitching for them as well.”
Ramirez’s father, Ampelio, was 17 when he moved to the Los Angeles area from the community of Jalostotitlan in central Mexico, about two hours northeast of Guadalajara.
“It’s a small, small town. Dirt-road small. Rock roads,” Ramirez said. “He came for a better life. It had to be hard for someone to go to a country and not know the other language and not know many people, to start a new life.”
Ampelio, an aerospace machinist, and his wife Margarita had a daughter in 1978 and, a year later, a son they named Horacio. Another daughter was born a few years later, but the family of five remained in their one-bedroom apartment until Horacio was 6, when they moved into a house in Inglewood, Calif.
Like the rest of his family, Spanish was his original language. Ramirez learned English while in school, and he also became a star athlete. He played baseball and basketball at Inglewood High School and became a fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1997 after his senior year.
Three years later, he showed his potential with a 15-8 record and a 3.22 earned-run average at Class A Myrtle Beach. The following year, Ramirez made just three starts at Class AA Greenville before suffering an elbow injury that led to Tommy John reconstructive surgery.
He bounced back strong, reaching the majors with the Braves in 2003 and going 12-4, 4.00 in 29 starts. Then he got hurt again, spending time on the disabled list in 2004 with shoulder tendinitis and in 2006 with injuries that made it seem he was snakebit.
He strained his left hamstring in his first game of 2006 when he tried to beat out a bunt. Later in the season, he sprained the middle finger on his left hand and didn’t pitch the final two months.
Despite his health history, Ramirez is aiming at bigger priorities this year with the Mariners.
“What I went through last year were freaky injuries that had nothing to do with my elbow or my shoulder,” he said. “The health part, I can’t do anything about that.
“What I’ve got to prove to myself every year is that I belong up here. Every spring training, I tell myself that I want to keep this job and stay up here. You never know when somebody is going to take this job away from you.”
It’s easy to find motivation, he says, as long as he never forgets where he came from or the people who got him there.
“There are a lot of things to motivate me,” he said. “My family migrated to California and they don’t speak English very well. My grandparents still live there and we would go back to Jalostotitlan once or twice a year. I haven’t been able to go back as much since I signed, but I know about where my family is from. I know the language and I know the culture.”
That’s what drives him.